Aurangzeb lived the life of a Muslim ascetic and viewed all performing arts with utter disdain but “Begum Zainabaadi” presented by Kshitij at Shri Ram Centre recently depicts him as a warm-hearted and compassionate prince who passionately loved a nautch girl and her art of dance but became the victim of court intrigues which forced him to become ruthless, suspicious, and an enemy of music and dance. The play subtlety conveys that the arrogance of power, a totalitarian system and wild ambition to grab the crown are enemies of true love and arts.
Based on Sharad Pagaare's Hindi novel, the stage version is written by Ankita Gusain. The production is conceived and directed by Bharti Sharma, a graduate of the National School of Drama and a former actor of the NSD Repertory Company. Bharti, who founded Kshitij in collaboration with some NSD graduates in 1987, is a fine actress and a sensitive director. Under her artistic direction Kshitij is one of the few amateur groups in the Capital whose productions are artistically brilliant and socially relevant.
Over the last two decades, Bharti has directed several plays based on Hindi novels with remarkable insight bringing their characters to life and investing them with new meaning. Some of these memorable productions include Sudha Shrivastav's “Biyanba Main Ugate Kinshuk”, “Goli” by Aacharya Chatursen and Pramay Nath Bishi's “Poornavatar”. She has captured the social atmosphere of these novels with special focus on the struggle of their female characters.
“Begum Zainabaadi” is a heartrending love story of Mughal Prince Aurangzeb and a haram girl called Zainabaadi, a gifted dancer. The brutal murder of the girl shocks Aurangzeb. The tragedy metamorphoses the character of Aurangzeb. Hating all forms of performing arts, he single-mindedly pursues power in a ruthless manner, killing his kith and kin in the process.
The play opens in the room of Aurangzeb. He is now old and tired. He dictates to his grandson his biography. Remembering his sweet-heart Zainabaadi, he reveals his love for her. Much of the play is presented in the form of stream of consciousness. The action keeps on changing from different locales in time and space. The play ends with the same scene from which it opens. This device of unfolding story imparts to the narrative a certain sense of harmony. In the course of dictation, the life of Heera Bai who became popular as Begum Zainabaadi, her mother's life and intrigues and the counter intrigues of the Mughal court are projected on the stage. The Kotha culture during the Mughal period as well as a few slices of lives of the haram women is woven into the narrative structure. The murder of Zainabaadi takes place off-stage.
The romantic scenes between Zainabaadi and young Prince Aurangzeb are elegantly crafted. The imaginatively designed sets, the evocative off-stage music, the beautifully designed costumes and skilful lighting create a romantic aura that thrills the audience. In this romantic setting the dialogue the lovers deliver has a peculiar musicality and poetic sensibility.
However, in the first half the scenes about Akhtari and the childhood of Heera Bai and the life of her mother should have been compressed to ensure the flow of dramatic action in a more logical and cohesive manner. In the second half the production acquires vitality and dramatic momentum. (the novelist, who came all the way from Indore to witness the dramatic presentation of his novel, was overwhelmed to see the production.)
Ashish Sharma as the aging Aurangzeb creates a vivid portrait of an old man with a tinge of sadness, melancholia and bitterness. Vipin Panedy ‘Arjun' imparts to his portrayal of young Aurangzeb, passionately in love with a nautch girl, warmth and sensitivity. Ankita Gusain as Begum Zainabaadi performs with panache. Her Zainabaadi is dignified, intelligent and exudes feminine charm. Trained Kathak dancer as she is, her dance poses are strikingly captivating. Vanya Joshi as Roshan Ara, a heartless and morbidly ambitious Mughal princess determined to see her dear brother Aurangzeb enthroned as the emperor of the Mughal Empire, and Vidhu as Akhatri, the owner of the kotha, act admirably.